Economy versus the Environment

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 24 December 2016

Economy versus the Environment

Down to Earth by Ted Steinberg highlights the role of nature in US history. Steinberg provides historical events, from minute detail of migrating birds to monumental breaking up of Pangeae, to support his analysis and for readers to fully grasp the course of American history. He maintains that the continuous interaction between human and nature drives them to evolve. But the truth, of course, is that human has tendencies to disregard nature to achieve their ideal standard of living. Moreover, human’s present consumption puts the life of future generation at risk.

Long before the European settlement in the region, America’s natural resources were already being threatened. Native American hunters utilized the world around them according to their needs. These early hunters drove mammoths to extinction, as well as the giant ground sloths and other prehistoric species. Many of them used fire to clear landscape which did served their purpose but harmed other plants and animals. Eventually, however, they became gifted stewards of their environment. Their activities, hunting, gathering and farming, were influenced by the cycles of nature.

The early exploration dictated by personal consumption quickly followed by exploitation. Migrants poured in pursuit of gold and silver in the English colonies which was abandoned for intensive harvesting of lucrative crops or the trapping of animals. The slang “buck” for money in America refers to deer hides called buckskins, being exported for glove making and other forms of leather manufacturing. This economic system persists until the end of the colonial period. By mid-1800s, regions were identified by the kind of cash crops they produced.

Tobacco, “King Cotton,” rice from South Carolina lowlands, timber from the virgin forests of the Great Lakes, Texas cattle and wheat from the Great Plains. The system made the nation wealthy but at a devastating cost to biodiversity. Steinberg pointed out that the major factor that brought the ecological change in America is “putting a price tag on the natural world. ” Cities were expanding, farmers were becoming more specialized in their cash crops and companies were pushing for more profits. Nature was transformed to articles of trade.

Lumber companies, for instance, led to much deforestation which led to loss of other plants and habitat of animals. The citizens of the US seemed to have a sense of “ecological amnesia,” oblivious to the effect on nature of ruthless exploitation despite the mounting evidence. Aside from lumber companies, other businesses and industries abused the natural resources for profit to further degrade the environment. A common man specializing in one type of cash crop had to rely on other farmers to provide for the needs not met by his own produce.

Rivers where fish used to spawn were dammed and converted to companies’ energy source. Nature was completely ignored in the interest of commerce and industry. As trade and commercialization intensifies so as reliance of everyone on someone else. Economic activity, both production and consumption, relates to the environment in two ways: the environment provides the raw materials for production, and through the process of production and consumption, we emit wastes into the environment (Worster, 1994).

However, human wants are limited while resources are finite. Demand always exceeds supply. So what happens now if we continue to strive to obtain more goods and services from our limited supply of non-renewable resources? Our present and future generations are in peril. Economic theories of trade argue that a country should concentrate on trading and producing goods and services where they have the comparative advantage (Krugman& Obstfeld, 2008). The comparative advantage in production is achieved if the input that was used is abundant in the country.

For instance, labor intensive goods should be traded by countries with large population, while countries should concentrate in producing capital intensive goods if they are abundant in capital. This exactly what the early traders did. They traded according to their comparative advantage, maximized their profit and yes, abused the environment to further their gains. The economic thinking that competitiveness as a function of efficiency of labor and capital is outmoded (Epping, 2001). In other parts of the world, industries are starting to factor in the efficient way of using their natural resources.

These efficiencies benefit countries, companies and local communities. Japan and Germany use half the energy input of American industry in their products. Energy represents about 10 percent of the cost of production and so they achieve with their efficiency about a five percent comparative advantage in world markets relative to US goods. The idea is to have a sustainable supply of both non-renewable and renewable resources relative to demand, to use the natural resources in a more efficient way to make the goods and services of a country, a company or a community more competitive in the market.

We do not want to be the generation that kills everything.

References Epping, Randy Charles (2001). A Beginner’s Guide To World Economy. New York: Random House, Inc. Krugman, P. & Obstfeld, M. (2008). International Economics: Theory and Policy. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc. Steinberg, Ted (2002). Down To Earth (pp. 1-115). New York: Oxford UP. Worster, Donald (1994). Nature’s Economy: The History of Ecological Ideas. United Kingdom: Cambridge UP.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 24 December 2016

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